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South Charleston chief calls officers' actions 'flawless' in shooting

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The actions of two police officers who shot and killed a Cross Lanes man early Tuesday morning after he was acting erratically were "flawless" in a tough situation, said South Charleston Police Brad Rinehart.

"Police often get criticized, but these officers used incredible restraint during this situation," Rinehart said of his officers.

South Charleston Police shot and killed Tommy Gene Ransbottom II, 40, of Cross Lanes after he allegedly refused to surrender and pointed a gun at two South Charleston officers.

Rinehart said that his department will not release the name of the two officers who fired shots Tuesday.

"It's not hiding anything. These officers have some rights to privacy. They were put in a very serious situation and did nothing wrong," he said. "They showed a lot of courage in a very dangerous situation. They did everything right in my opinion. They were backed in to a corner and they exhausted all efforts they had."

Rinehart said both the city and the police department's thoughts are with Ransbottom's family.

"I think it's safe to say that incident yesterday did not end the way we really wanted it to, but sometimes in police work, you have to deal with the cards you've been dealt," Rinehart said.

Around 10 p.m. on Monday evening, South Charleston Police and the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department started indirectly dealing with Ransbottom, after being notified by Kanawha County Metro 911 that he had been making threats before firing his gun seven times into the area in front of family members.

"You've got to wonder as a policeman if he is acting this way in front of his family members ... how he's going to act when he encounters other people," Rinehart said.

Police heard numerous reports about Ransbottom's behavior through the evening, including that he was maybe going to crash a car and then fire upon officers when they approached the crash scene.

"There were several things circling, so the officers did know throughout the night. [Ransbottom] had suicidal thoughts. He made statements of suicide by cop. He had a gun in his possession and he had fired that gun," Rinehart said.

The first time South Charleston officers actually encountered Ransbottom was later in the evening during a traffic stop on Village Drive.

"There were a lot of decisions being made in a short period of time. Fortunately they got the car stopped," he said.  

Six South Charleston police officers in five cruisers cornered Ransbottom's car in the parking lot of Rock Lake Presbyterian Church on Village Drive and Rock Lake Drive at about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

"They gave him repeated verbal commands to get out of his car and put his hands up," Rinehart said.

Ransbottom, who was on the phone with his sister in Missouri, exited his car three times, once throwing a soda bottle at the six South Charleston officers, who were surrounding Ransbottom in a "half-moon" shape with five cruisers.

"The third time he got out, he had a gun in his hand. He started walking toward the officers who were [straight ahead]. Commands were made 'drop the gun. Drop the gun,' and at that time he raised a [.380 caliber semiautomatic pistol]," Rinehart said.

Officers on the side of the half-circle had a better vantage point to see the gun before the officers directly in front of Ransbottom.

"Those officers shot to protect these two officers [in front of Ransbottom,]" Rinehart said. "The officers directly in front of him were not sure it was a gun. It was pointed directly at them but he had a phone in his hand earlier."

Rinehart said although officers had to use their weapons, they acted as a team and remained calm.

"This is something we train for, but you can't practice something like this," he said. "The officers straight across were thinking about looking behind them and the houses off to the left. So many things were going through their mind."

Two officers fired a total of four shots, two of which hit Ransbottom. He was transported to Thomas Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Rinehart said the shooting has affected the entire department.

"As a 32-year policeman, I have never had to [shoot someone]. I can't imagine how that is to use deadly force. That is the last thing you want to do. You don't come out here thinking that. You have a firearm on your side everyday you work and for the most part, it's probably pretty inconvenient, but that is something you don't think of.

"Those officers had no choice. They shot to save the lives of those other officers," Rinehart said. "It's a reality check. You realize the dangers of this job a little bit more."

Rinehart said officers used an "appropriate" amount of force.

"We don't shoot to wound. We shoot to eliminate the threat," he said.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department is investigating the shooting. Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants said it appears to be a "justified shooting" based on a preliminary investigation. The prosecutor said he would release a complete report once all the evidence had been gathered.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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